Maseru was nearly still on this Sunday morning. Two volunteers and I found a shady table at the French coffee shop in town and each order a caffeinated beverage. Although located on the main street, the coffee shop is an island off of Maseru’s busy and dirty streets. On this morning, the tables were set up under umbrellas and a ground’s keeper was watering nearby flowers. Despite yesterday’s ran, I could feel summer.
Then my phone rang. It was a student. She lives about a 40-minute walk from me but wanted to visit so I could help with her with English. Like many other students, she was expelled for several days because she had yet to pay school fees for this semester. On Thursday, she finally came back to class, just in time for me to tell her that will we begin writing (taking) end-of-the-year tests on Monday. She knew the best way to prepare for the test was to see me personally.
This meant that my leisurely Sunday in the city would be cut short. I had to quickly pay for my coffee, cancel lunch plans with another volunteer, skip half of my Internet to-do list and rush to the taxi rank to meet her.
My favorite morning of the week was now, but for the best of reasons.
Since the beginning of the semester, I’ve told my students, practically begged them, to come to me with help. Basotho, children and adults alike, can be very shy people. I’ve had to approach taxi drivers and food vendors because my Mosotho companion was too timid. So, when I came to school, it took months before my students had enough courage to approach me about homework questions.
As we close in on the last three weeks of the school year, most of the students have strong cases of spring fever. I understand, I did too in high school and college and even do so now, but lately I’ve been so frustrated with their lack of motivation and attention to their studies. The last few classes have not been good and typically end with both the students and I walking out in huffs and puffs. I want them to pass, but I honestly can’t guarantee they will.
When one single student asked for my help over the weekend, I was willing to abandon every other plan to help her. During the first term, she had the highest English score in the class but barely seemed to pass the third quarter exams. Like other students in the class, I assumed she too had given up and was already accepting failure as her probable fate.
But she wasn’t. She copied notes from other students and we went over them together. We went through her last exam and I explained her mistakes and gave her a few casual questions to check understanding. We worked through all of her problem areas until she was ready to walk the 40 minutes back home.
In Maseru, before returning back to my site, I asked another volunteer about how life in her own village and she replied that she was considering extending.
She said she can vacuum, file papers and change diapers at home but here is where she feels needed. Her community and students make her feel wanted. Most volunteer, myself included, do not often feel that way and when I said as much to her, she commented on the student I was rushing home to meet.
“One person needs you.”
After several weeks of feeling like I am not contributing anything to my village, I needed a win. I needed to feel like my presence here was more than for show. I needed to do something for someone, give something of myself to benefit another.
It felt good to give up that afternoon nap or Internet time at the PC office so my student could feel a bit more confident going into exams. But it felt even better to see her taking initiative to make sure she passes.
Last week was not a good one. All parts of my life felt off and work disappointment was high. But this one student – who came to me for help because she wanted to help herself – is enough to start this next week with hope.